Game name: Loop Hero
Release date: March 4, 2021
Available on: Steam
Developer: Four Quarters
Publisher: Devolver Digital
I have to admit that I’m way late to the party when it comes to this game. It was Devolver Digital’s 2021 Game of the Year before 2021 had even started, and I got a few messages about it, which I promptly ignored, because I didn’t know better (to be fair to myself, they got lost in the mess that can be my inbox sometimes). Then I got access to it and spent an entire week playing it non-stop before finding some time to sit down, collect my thoughts and try to put them into words for this review. I can already hear you asking me if it’s any good. Spoiler alert: it’s one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played (and under the current circumstances of living through a global pandemic, that’s actually a VERY good thing).
The game opens with a classic hero running to save the world, but things don’t go as planned, and our would-be savior ends up waking up in a weird place with no sky, seemingly forever cursed to walk around in circles, fighting trash mobs who show up from time to time. Apparently, the villain of the story wiped out all memory of humanity’s existence, along with everything else. No matter though, because a hero can’t really rest until they’ve beaten the big baddie, so onwards we go, walking and fighting, walking and fighting… All of this is done automatically (we watch as our character, represented by a tiny white figure, walks around the map, gets into fights, and continues on their not-so-merry way). We can, however, pause the game (entering a “planning mode”) to equip loot dropped by fallen foes, and, here’s the important bit, place landmark cards either on the path we travel, or on the outskirts of that loop. During the first few minutes of the game, that’s pretty much all we’ll be doing, watching our character loop around the place, equipping gear whenever we get a better drop, and placing stuff on the map (mostly aimlessly). A camp with a little bonfire acts as our starting point (and escape if we feel too overwhelmed to continue), but aside from that, there isn’t anything friendly on the map unless we find a helpful landmark card and decide to put it there.
Doesn’t sound all that exciting, right? That’s Loop Hero‘s biggest problem, I think. When I write about it, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but when I am playing it, it captures my attention in ways I didn’t think possible. It looks like an idle game, it mostly plays like one, and yet, it keeps me hooked for hours, refusing to become relegated to a second monitor time waster. Why is that? Well, the developers made a game that looks very simple, but ends up being deceptively complex (while still maintaining a commendable level of accessibility). Those landmark cards I mentioned? Some of them can be combined so our hero gets better stats and can keep looping and fighting for longer. Others will summon enemies from time to time, but they are also necessary because there is a progress bar that must be filled in order to spawn the boss of each loop, and enemy landmarks do that job. Then there’s other cards that can be combined with the enemy spawners in order to help us kill foes quicker, or get swarmed by less opponents at the same time, or make time pass quicker, etc. It’s all tightly connected, and I haven’t even mentioned Loop Hero‘s hidden ace in the sleeve: town building.
Oh yeah, Four Quarters‘ addictive adventure isn’t just about looping endlessly, killing monsters, placing cards, equipping stuff, and fighting bosses. There’s a pretty cool village building aspect that unlocks the first time we decide to call it quits and escape the loop through the camp I mentioned a while ago. How do we build stuff? Well, placing landmark cards and sending enemies to wherever they came from will, from time to time, earn us resource drops (which can then combine into higher tier resources). Escaping the loop through the camp will let us keep all our stuff, while dying and being recalled that way will only let us keep a fraction of our resources. Once outside of the loop, we can start building, and that will help the human survivors get their bearings and help us with useful stuff like new cards, potions, a crafting area, unlocking new playable classes, the ability to unlock traits mid-loop, etc. Unlocking new cards feeds into the deck building part of the game (yes, there’s a deck building aspect!) where we can choose whether to take certain cards into our next loop, or replace them with others that might synergize better with the stuff we have. The resource gathering aspect of the game turns it into something that feels a lot more interesting than a simple idle game, since now the stakes are higher. Do we press on, fighting everything and placing as many enemy spawners as we can in order to summon the boss, or do we play it cool and try to farm as much as possible, in order to start of in a much better place than usual? Rushing the boss could open up a new chapter faster, but we could also get our butts kicked and lose most of the materials we gathered during our loops. Is the risk worth it, knowing we could lose up to an hour of grind?
Of course, you could always think that since Loop Hero looks like an idle game, you can just farm for resources while you are away or doing something else. I used to think that, before I figured out that landmarks can be placed in specific patterns, and we’ll get different amounts (and types) of resources depending on that. There are things we can’t get with just the normal run, kill, run, kill, extract loop, and instead require experimentation and a healthy dose of enemy summoning (which, in turn, makes fights harder, forcing us to pay attention to gear drops if we want to stay competitive in this ruthless world). Further cementing the idea that you actually have to pay more attention than it seems is the fact that the story can actually be quite endearing, and the dialogues are well written and interesting. After all, we are rebuilding a world that doesn’t remember itself, so we have to do some work remembering it ourselves, right?
Moving on to the tech side, I feel that many will dismiss Loop Hero with the classic “oh, I’ve seen a million lo-fi indie games like it” but they’d be dead wrong here. The art style made me think of way older games (like, the stuff I used to see as a kid on my dad’s computer). The way the world fills with color and detail as we add landmark cards is pretty much perfect, because it fits the narrative (and the gameplay) to a T. The sound aspect of the game is also excellent, with “PC speaker sound” memories flooding my mind after a while. Overall, everything fits so snugly that I can’t really see Loop Hero working in any other style.
So far I’ve been one hundred percent positive about the game, so I feel I should balance that with a few things that felt like they need a bit more adjustment still. The first one is that while there is a toggle so we can choose between normal speed and 2x speed, the fastest option still feels a bit slower than I’d like, considering that there’s always the planning mode if I want to place cards in the map (and I always end up using it). The second (and weirdly enough, last) of my complaints is that I’ve experienced a few crashes (which inevitably led to loss of progress because I was mid-loop when the crashes happened) Thankfully, the developers have been very active fixing issues, so the game feels more stable with every passing day.
Aside from these two issues, my time with Loop Hero couldn’t have been more enjoyable. This is hands down one of the most addictive games I’ve played, and I’d urge any RPG lovers to give it a shot, because it pretty much does everything right. Four Quarters have crafted a title that I expect to remember fondly for years to come.
9.5/10 – Excellent